Rev. Irene Monroe: R&B star Frank Ocean comes out – and exemplifies the community’s rejection of a ‘gay identity’

R&B and Hip-Hop songwriter Frank Ocean has come out. Although it will [be] hotly contested in African American circles, some say Ocean is the first major artist to come out in both industries.

For some time there has been rumors about Ocean’s down low trysts. But in Ocean’s new album Channel Orange, to be released July 17, a journalist attending the listening party for the album noted that several of the songs were not heterosexual in messaging but rather they were boldly “addressed to a male love object.”

“When I think about the term ‘running away,’ probably it’s not the right one,”  Ocean told New York Times reporter Jon Caramanica. “It’s more I decided to do something different, so that I might have a different outlook.” Ocean added, “When they’re emotional things you can’t run away from them anyway.”

One of the things Ocean has now stopped running away from when publicly confronted about is  his sexuality. The 24-year-old New Orleans native posted last week on both Twitter and Tumblr that he had a same-gender loving relationship when he was 19.

“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide….
Sleep I would often share with him…. There was no escaping.  No negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love.”

Ocean concludes the post: “I don’t have any secrets I need to keep anymore. … I feel like a free man..”

While homophobia is evident in Hip-Hop, so, too, in R&B. As a rising star in both genres Ocean not stating whether he  is “bisexual” or “gay” has frustrated many in the LGBTQ community, but it might speak to his need to stay afloat professional.

“At Ebony.com, Jamilah Lemieux noted that while few urban artists openly embrace homosexuality, many are in “the closet with the glass door,” living a life they don’t reveal in their music. “I hope that Frank Ocean doesn’t become ‘the gay singer,’ for it would be criminally unfair for him to wear that label as so many of his peers are sleeping with and loving same gendered persons, while selling images of hyper-heterosexuality.”

But that “LGBTQ” label is what many African American artists have doggedly denounced in spite of being caught in an indisputable same- gender lover’s embrace.

Let’s not forget our down-to-earth Jersey girl Dana Owens a.k.a reigning Hip-hop’s Queen Latifah.

The African American celebrity gossip, news, popular culture and entertainment blog Bossip.com outed Latifah in September 2010 with photos of Latifah and gal pal and “personal trainer” Jeanette Jenkins in a tender embrace that was not intended for public viewing. When photos from R&B soul diva Alicia Keys’ nuptials of Queen Latifah and Jenkins intimately embraced aboard a private yacht in France went viral on the Internet the public’s long awaited “Gotcha” moment was revealed.

“My private life is my private life. Whomever I might be with, I don’t feel the need to share it. I don’t think I ever will, ” Queen Latifah said in a November 2007 interview with People magazine, refuting rumors that she’s a lesbian.

Ann Powers in her article A Close Look At Frank Ocean’s Coming Out Letter for NPR opines differently why artists might not self-identity as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ):

“There is another reason why Ocean can’t be saddled with an easy label, and it points to an interesting aspect of his newly minted self-conception. In his note, instead of embracing an identity, Ocean shared a set of memories and explored complex feelings, just as he does in his songs. Unlike the standard coming out gesture—newsman Anderson Cooper’s public email to his friend Andrew Sullivan, “The fact is, I’m gay”—Ocean’s presented sexuality as something that arises within particular circumstances, defined by shifting desire and individual encounters rather than solidifying as an identity. In the age-old debate about whether sexuality emerges as something we are or through something we want or do, Ocean carefully rested on the side of feeling and deed.”

Although Ocean appears “label-less” in not identifying as either “bisexual” or “gay” Cleo Manago, founder of Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), states in this article Can People Let Frank Ocean Define His Own Sexuality a possible reason why:


“What we’ve witnessed is a profound chauvinism on the part of gay-identified individuals who cannot conceive of any identity outside of the limiting gay/straight binary. And in the process, they continue to obscure the rarely acknowledged reality that many Black men who love men are not comfortable with the LGBT or gay identity.”


The terms  “LGBT,” “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors Manago and his organization would use to depict themselves. They would be “same-gender-loving” because terms like “gay” and “queer” uphold a white queer hegemony that Manago and many in the African-American LGBTQ community denounce. As a matter-of-fact, he is credited with coining the terms “men who have sex with men” (MSM) and “same-gender-loving” (SGL)

With a president who now embraces same-sex marriage and in this era of celebrated LGBTQ artists like Ellen DeGeneres and Wanda Sykes the fluidity of sexuality is becoming more accepted, even in certain artist enclaves of the African American community.

When Ocean [made] public his announcement power couple Beyonce and Jay-Z expressed their support. And Russell Simmons, co-founder of the hip-hop label “Def Jam” wrote a congratulatory article The Courage of Frank Ocean Just Changed the Game! in Global Grind stating “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? […] Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.”

Ocean has certainly changed the game for both hip-hop and R&B  LGBTQ artists, but he sums up this issue best when he posted on his Tumblr page, “My hope is that the babies born these days will inherit less of the (expletive) than we did.”

Rev. Irene Monroe on South Africa’s ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians

To hear of human rights abuses of Uganda’s LGBTQ population is not new, sadly. Gay activist David Kato was the father of the Uganda’s LGBTQ rights movement. To many of his fellow countrymen Kato was a dead man walking once his homosexuality became public. The country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill dubbed “Kill the Gays bill” criminalizes same-sex relations. And depending on which category your homosexual behavior is classified as —”aggravated homosexual” or “the offense of homosexuality”—you’ll either received the death penalty or if you’re lucky life imprisonment.


Kato didn’t live to receive either punishment. On a list of 100 LGBTQ Ugandans whose names and photos were published in an October 2010 tabloid newspaper calling for their execution, Kato was murdered in January 2011.

Throughout the African continent there are stories of homophobic bullying, bashing and abuses of its LGBTQ population. None of us will forget Zimbabwe’s despot Robert Mugabe, who treated his LGBTQ citizens with torturous action, has yet to be brought to justice. Mugabe’s condemnation of his LGBTQ population is that they are the cause of Zimbabwe’s problems and he views homosexuality as an “un-African” and an immoral culture brought by colonists and practiced by only ‘a few whites’ in his country.”

However, the one country you don’t expect to hear anti- LGBTQ rhetoric and human rights abuses from is South Africa.

South Africa is the first African country to openly support LGBTQ civil rights. In 2004 its Supreme Court ruled that the common-law definition of marriage included same-sex unions. And in 2005, South Africa’s Constitutional Court “made any inferior status imposed on same-sex partners unconstitutional.”

But South Africa has a serious problem with its LGBTQ population, and especially with lesbians.

Its method to remedy its problem with lesbian is “corrective rape.”

On any given day in South Africa lesbians are twice as likely to be sexually molested, raped, gang-raped than heterosexual women. A reported estimate of at least 500 lesbians is victims of “corrective rape” per year. And in Western Cape, a province in the south west of South Africa, a report put out by the Triangle Project in 2008 stated that as many as 86 percent of its lesbian population live in fear of being raped. And their fear is not unfounded.

“Lesbians get raped and killed because it is accepted by our community and by our culture” a South African man told New York Times reporter Lee Middleton.

Corrective rape is the South African version of “reparative therapy.” Its intended objective is to rectify the sexual orientation of women who are lesbians or perceived to be lesbians to that of heterosexual.  The term “corrective rape” was coined and first identified in South Africa after well-known cases of corrective rapes of lesbians like Eudy Simelane and Zoliswa Nkonyana became public internationally. Because of the stigma associated with homosexuality and gender non-conforming behavior, members of the women’s family or their local village sometimes supervise these rapes.


Corrective Rape is a hate crime that for the most part goes unreported and unprosecuted in South Africa.


These rapes are the major contributor to HIV/AIDs epidemic among South African lesbians. To many South African men who hunt down lesbians or happened upon them “corrective rape” is seen neither as a hate crime nor as a sexual assault. South African men are sexually entitled to do them. And it’s just what patriotic men are expected to do for their country and tribe in a culture that upholds violent heterosexual patriarchal views at penis point.

In depicting a double rape, hers and that of her friend’s, Lungile Cleopatra Dladla shared withThe New Yorker reporter Charlayne Hunter-Gault how matter-of-factly their rapist was with them.

“An armed man, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, came up behind them and directed them to a field. Then he undressed us. He tied us, and then he was going, ‘Ja, today I want to show you that you’re girls. He raped [us] both. And then, immediately after, he dressed and untied my friend’s hand and then untied my feet and then he walked…. From a distance, he shouted, “Now you can dress and go.”

Dubbed as the “Rape Capitol of the World” (A study by Interpol, the international police agency, has revealed that South Africa leads the world in rapes.) sexual violence is a problem throughout South Africa from the highest man in office to the goat herder in a small village.

According to South Africa’s rape statistics for 2011”it is estimated that a woman born in South Africa has a greater chance of being raped than learning how to read.”

In 2011 a woman was raped in South Africa every 17 seconds. 1 in 4 men admit to having rape and “of South African men who knew somebody who had been raped, 16 percent believed that the rape survivor had enjoyed the experience and had asked for it.

For example, South African President Jacob Zuma is a celebrated and acquitted rapist. He raped the daughter of a family friend. “He said that the woman in question had provoked him, by wearing a skirt and sitting with her legs uncrossed, and that it was his duty, as a Zulu man, to satisfy a sexually aroused woman, “ Hunter-Gault reported.

And “baby rape,” not a new phenomenon in South Africa, has come out of the closet. It’s the belief that having sex with a baby girl or virgin girl child cures AIDS.

But what’s not being talked about in “corrective rape” is how it too can be seen as a cure for AIDS.

For these men who are feeling the societal pressures and scorn of raping babies and young girls, lesbians are the next best choice.

With both population of females believed to be virgins, “corrective rape” can convince a rapist   that he’s doing his manly duty and he’s being rewarded by being cured of AIDS, too.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Black ministers follow Obama

African-American ministers have come out for, and against, Obama’s stance on marriage equality.


LGBTQ activists of African descent have pondered what would be the catalyst to rally those African-American Christian ministers to support same-sex marriage and engage the black community in a nationwide discussion.

Last week the answer arrived in President Barack Obama’s support of marriage equality.

“We are both practicing Christians, and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others, but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know: treat others the way you would want to be treated…I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts…” Obama told Good Morning America’s news anchor Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview.

Just as Obama could no longer shrewdly fence-sit on the issue while winking a stealth nod to LGBTQ voters, black ministers, who quietly professed to be an ally to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community, could no longer stay closeted from their congregations.

For these African-American ministers, the liability of Obama losing his 2012 re-election bid is far greater than being publicly outed for not being in lockstep with their homophobic brethren.

“The institution of marriage is not under attack because of the President’s words,” Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago told his church on Sunday. Moss is the successor of President Obama’s former and infamous pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

But for many African American ministers in opposition to Obama’s stance on marriage equality the institution of marriage, at least within the black family, is under assault, and LGBTQ people further exacerbate the problem.

These ministers, some who are allies for LGBTQ civil rights, but draw the line on same-sex marriage, espousing their opposition to same-sex marriage as a prophylactic measure to combat the epidemic level of fatherlessness in black families. In scapegoating the LGBTQ community, these clerics are ignoring the social ills behind black fatherlessness such as the systematic disenfranchisement of both African-American men and women, high unemployment, high incarceration, and poor education, to name a few.

In his homily Moss also stated, “Gay people have never been the enemy, and when we use rhetoric to suggest they are the source of all our problems, we lie on God and cause tears to fall from the eyes of Christ… We must stay in dialogue and not allow our personal emotional prejudices or doctrines to prevent us from clearly seeing the possibility of the beloved community….”

Immediately following Obama’s public support for marriage equality, a coalition of African American civil rights leaders signed their names to an OPEN LETTER affirming their solidarity with President Barack Obama on marriage equality. Signees include Dr. Joseph Lowrey, of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference; Melanie Campbell, of the National Coalition for Black Civic Engagement; Julian Bond, of the NAACP; and Rev. Al Sharpton.

Since Obama has come out with his support many in the black community are working tirelessly to counter the barrage of attacks the he has received from opposing black clerics.
For example, Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey, Associate Dean of Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology has a petition going around the country asking African American clergy and scholars for their support on behalf the president’s stance to counter the stereotype that “black folks are against homosexuality and gay marriage.”

Another petition going around the country aimed at reaching and informming African American voters, particularly black Chirsitian voters, about wedge strategies to divide the community this 2012 election year is NoWedge2012.com.

In stressing that the black religious community is not theologically monolithic the petition states “There is a great diversity in Black America on the cultural and theological understanding of sexual orientation than the media or popular culture give credence (recent polls show that African Americans are equally divided on marriage equality). We acknowledge that it was President Obama’s faith that guided his shift in embracing marriage equality. Our community has the ability to hold different positions and not demonize what is perceived to be the “other.” In light of this complexity Black America should hear from candidates with policy positions that are holistically beneficial for our community as a family.”

Right wing organizations like National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which support presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, are actively courting black churches for their strategic 2012 election game plan to drive a wedge between LGBTQ and African American voters. And the black community mustn’t fall prey to.

And the thought of the first African-American president losing his re-election bid because of homophobic views on marriage equality led by black pastors will be tragic. And their action that will be remembered through history.

Obama is president of the United States and not pastor of the United States. He’s president of all the people, not some of the people.

And as African-Americans who have battled for centuries against racial discrimination, we have always relied on our president and his administration to fight for and uphold our civil rights, because too many pastors across the country and throughout centuries wouldn’t.

Rev. Irene Monroe: Romney’s gay fall guy Grenell

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, likes to play it safe. Romney avoids controversy, by any means necessary—even if he has to lie, flip-flop for, or somersault.

When the news hit on the evening of April 19th that Richard Grenell, an openly gay Republican, was appointed to be Romney’s national security and foreign policy spokesman, anti-gay G.O.P criticism erupted.

The elephant that sits neither quietly nor invisibly in the G.O.P’s room is that the Republican Party is just as gay as the Democratic Party—just more closeted.

 

Grenell would have been the party’s first out presidential campaign spokesman, signaling a shift in broadening its appeal to Republican moderates and LGBTQ voters. Instead, we witnessed the continued anti-gay stronghold of the G.O.P.’s social conservatives. Less than a fortnight after his appointment to the campaign, Grenell abruptly resigned on May 1st, embarrassing not only the Romney camp, but also the party’s growing anti-homophobic contingent.

In a statement obtained by Right Turn, Jennifer Rubin’s commentary from a conservative perspective in The Washington Post, Grenell stated: “I have decided to resign from the Romney campaign as the Foreign Policy and National Security Spokesman. While I welcomed the challenge to confront President Obama’s foreign policy failures and weak leadership on the world stage, my ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper-partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign. I want to thank Governor Romney for his belief in me and my abilities and his clear message to me that being openly gay was a non-issue for him and his team.”

Grenell was a veteran Republican communications strategist when President George W. Bush, in  2001, appointed him as his Director of Communications and Public Diplomacy for the U.S. Permanent Representative to the U.N. Before coming to the U.N., Grenell served as a spokesman for several Republican officials: N.Y. Governor George Pataki, San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, and South Carolina then-Rep. Mark Sanford before elected governor. As a party loyalist, who has been on the Republican scene for decades, no one would have fathomed a party backlash against Grenell.

“Romney picks out & loud gay as a spokesman. If personnel is policy, his message to the pro-family community: drop dead,” Bryan J. Fischer, Director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, and conservative radio talk show host tweeted.

Contrary to Fischer’s beliefs Grenell, he is very much a family man. He and his partner have been together for nearly a decade. Fischer’s fears is that Grenell’s a proponent for marriage equality, but he’s only publicly critical of LGBTQ Democratic leaders’ and Obama’s lukewarm strategy toward winning it.

For example, in a March 16 op-ed titled “Gay Dems excuse Obama’s failings for party invitations” in the LGBTQ D.C. newspaper the Washington Blade, Grenell challenged LGBTQ leaders for not taking a no-holds-barred stance with Obama.
“Last summer, President Obama reiterated his opposition to gay marriage in New York City one day before New York politicians passed marriage equality for their state…The president and his political advisers surely must have calculated the consequences for taking such a timely stand. And they must have decided there was more benefit to opposing gay marriage than supporting it….There are Republicans and other Democrats more supportive of gay equality issues than Obama—and some just as tepid—so why are gay leaders putting all their trust into a man that isn’t performing?”

Hard-nosed social conservatives, like Fischer, are worried about Grenell’s public endorsement of same-sex marriage—the very anthesis of Romney’s and Republican platform.

And with a right-wing organization like National Organization for Marriage (NOM)  endorsing  Romney, and whose key objective is courting black churches for their strategic 2012 election game plan to drive a wedge between LGBTQ voters and African American voters, Grenell can be  perceived by some Republican homophobes as a potential and future flip-floppers .

For example, in The National Review online, Matthew J. Franck wrote: “Suppose Barack Obama comes out—as Grenell wishes he would—in favor of same-sex marriage in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. How fast and how publicly will Richard Grenell decamp from Romney to Obama?”

While the Romney camp attempted to do damage control concerning Grenell’s resignation, it did nothing in terms of  a public statement supporting  its appointment of Grenell during the political dust-up.

During the two weeks of Grenell’s position in the post, Grenell was neither publicly put out to comment on national security matters nor was he used on press foreign policy conference calls.

It has always been clear that Romney is neither a friend nor an ally to the LGBTQ community. But it  is  also evident that Romney is neither a friend nor ally to those LGBTQ Republicans who would work on his behalf to get him elected.

 

 

How anti-sodomy laws were sunk – racism, jealousy, and a false police report

If you love John Grisham’s fictional legal thrillers, you’ll be riveted to Dale Carpenter’s real life page-turner Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas. Carpenter is a Law professor at the University of Minnesota and is involved with LGBTQ legal issues.

Told from the perspectives of the plaintiffs, arresting officers, attorneys, judges and prosecutors, Flagrant Conduct is a detailed account of the 2003 landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas in which the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its 1986 decision in the Bowers v. Hardwick sodomy case, making same-gender sexual activity legal throughout the country.

I remember this case vividly. A bogus call to the Houston, Texas police about a burglary from a prying neighbor resulted in the police entering the home of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner. The men were allegedly engaging in consensual sex . Reports vary wildly on what the officers saw with one reporting the men were not even in the same room. The men were arrested and held overnight in jail. They were charged with violating the state’s anti-sodomy law. Both men plead no contest to the charge.

The man who called the police to report a domestic disturbance, Robert Eubanks, was later charged with filing a false police report and spent 15 days in jail.

Writing in favor of the ruling, Justice Kennedy stated that “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter.”

It was great to awake on the morning of June 27, 2003, to read the headlines stating that the highest court of this land struck down the Texas law that had criminalized sexual relationships between consenting adults. The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision was momentous—especially given the conservative composition of the court and the reactionary times in which we reside.

To see photos of John Lawrence and Tyron Garner of Houston— the two men who spurred the case— giving the nation a victory smile signaled, at least legislatively, a shift in protecting the private lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) Americans.

But for some Americans the photo of Lawrence and Garner wasn’t disturbing just because they were two gay men. The silent issue in the Lawrence v. Texas case was race. While race was not on trial, it was certainly the elephant in the room. The interracial component of Garner’s and Lawrence’s relationship disgusted some folks—black and white—just as much, if not more, as their homosexuality. Many have speculated that the false call to the police was motivated by racism.

For many of these same Americans, this victory was seen as a signed decree sanctioning sexual depravity. Newsweek that year reported on its “ick factor,” the revulsion some heterosexuals feel toward the way we LGBTQ people engage in sexual intimacy. (Obviously , the Will & Grace—theory, based on the television sitcom of two gay characters that aired from 1998—2006, that the most important indicator of supporting LGBTQ civil rights is whether one knows, has frequent contact or sees frequently someone who is LGBTQ—had no effect on them.)


Dale Carpenter discusses Lawrence v. Texas at a CATO Institute talk.

While Carpenter successfully depicts that the legal heart of Lawrence v. Texas is about privacy, that all sexual relationships—heterosexual and LGBTQ— between consenting adults should feel safe from unwarranted intrusions into our homes by the government, many still feel, however, that the moral soul of the issue is that an act of sodomy is an abomination to God.

Sodomy was a crime defined, according to 18th Century British commentator William Blackstone, “not fit to be named.” And sodomy laws once targeted both heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.

The invention of sodomy is rooted in Christian theology. The anti-sodomitic theological tradition derives from a homophobic and misogynist reading of the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in Genesis 19. As one of the most quoted scriptures to argue for compulsory heterosexuality, the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative has become authoritatively damaging not only to LGBTQ people, but to women as well, because women are the real victims we read about in the text, and LGBTQ people are the scapegoats who are read into the text.

Overturning Texas’ sodomy law marked a new era not only for LGBTQ people, but also for all Americans. The sanctity of our private sexual lives must be protected, because the issue of our private lives is a matter of justice not only to be argued openly in the courtrooms, but also is a justice issue to be acted out privately in our bedrooms.

But here’s the melodramatic twist in this landmark case that Carpenter discloses: the plaintiffs, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner, weren’t lovers.

As a matter-of-fact, in an act of jealous rage and drunkenness on the night of September 17, 1998, Tyron Garner’s white lover, Robert Eubanks, phoned police warning that a black man was “going crazy with a gun” in John Lawrence’s apartment.

In other words, as The New Yorker writer, Dahlia Lithwick, wrote in her article Extreme Makeover:

“the case that affirmed the right of gay couples to have consensual sex in private spaces seems to have involved two men who were neither a couple nor having sex. In order to appeal to the conservative Justices on the high court, the story of a booze-soaked quarrel was repackaged as a love story. Nobody had to know that the gay-rights case of the century was actually about three or four men getting drunk in front of a television in a Harris County apartment decorated with bad James Dean erotica.”

When police arrived they arrested Garner, because he was African American, and Lawrence because it was his apartment.

Both Lawrence and Garner have died, but their landmark case will live on in legal perpetuity. What won’t be remember about them that Carpenter’s Flagrant Conduct reminds us is that they were accidental plaintiffs with little to lose in admitting they violated Texas’s sodomy laws.


BOOK DETAILS
WW. Norton
Hardcover
March 2012
ISBN 978-0-393-06208-3
6.6 × 9.6 in / 368 pages

The Hunger Games’ young racist fans

There’s a frenzy surrounding the blockbuster film and book The Hunger Games. But the fan attention around the movie has taken a decidedly different turn from the fervor the book caused. The schism originates from the difference between reading ­— where one’s visual images of characters can be both personal and individual — and watching — where the film’s visual images of characters are a literal representation.

The film script follows the book closely and some of fans are apoplectic. The result is a tweeting tsunami of racist comments focusing on the presence of the few main black characters in the film. 

Here are just a few of the racist tweets that have gone viral:
  • “why does rue have to be black not gonna lie kinda ruined the movie.”
  • “Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad.
  • “why did the producer make all the good characters black.”
  • “Awkward moment when Rue is some black girl and not the little blonde innocent girl you pictured.”
Sadly, there are more vile tweets, some employing the “n-word,” that have been collected on a Tumblr page called Hunger Games Tweets.

Lionsgate, the distributor of The Hunger Games issued a statement praising fans who spoke out against the racist tweets, saying, “We applaud and support their action.”

Gay rights activist and actor George Hosato Takei who’s best known for his role as Hikaru Suluhelmsman of the USS Enterprise in the television series Star Trek, responded to these racist tweets stating, “Some fans outraged that blacks cast in Hunger Games roles. Teens killing each other in futuristic arenas, and they care about what color?” 
There are several salient themes both in the book and film, but race is not one of them. While I won’t say this dystopic tale is post-racial, the author’s, Suzanne Collins, treatment of race is both honest and nuanced.

In April of 2011, Suzanne Collins told Entertainment Weekly that her characters “…were not particularly intended to be biracial. It is a time period where hundreds of years have passed from now. There’s been a lot of ethnic mixing. But I think I describe them as having dark hair, grey eyes, and sort of olive skin. …But then there are some characters in the book who are more specifically described.”  Thresh and Rue. Collins said, “They’re African-American.”

And the characters Rue, Thresh, and Cinna are played in the film by African American actors, Amandla StenbergDayo Okeniyi and Lenny Kravitz, respectively. Whereas Cinna’s skin hue is not mentioned in the book, Rue’s and Thresh’s are both explicitly depicted as having “dark skin.”

In describing the character Rue in the novel Collins writes, “And most hauntingly, a twelve-year-old girl from District 11. She has dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” Prim is the protagonist’s, Katniss Everdeen, sister. I surmise since Prim is white and Rue is being compared to her many fans expected the same, ignoring what’s stated explicitly in the text.

And in describing Thresh Collins writes, “The boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue, but the resemblance stops there. He’s one of the giants, probably six and half feet tall and built like an ox. “

Collins could have never imagined this sort of reaction to her non-white characters, yet it highlights resoundingly the lack of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature.

Data analyzed by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cooperative Children’s Book Center in 2010 found that only nine per cent of the three thousand four hundred children’s books published that year contained significant cultural or ethnic diversity.

With the paucity of cultural and ethnic diversity in children and young adult literature, white characters and white culture become an expectation and literary norm that is both learned and internalized by white children as well as children of color.

“People very often talk about literacy with words, but there’s such a thing as visual and thematic literacy,” says Deborah Pope, the executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, which encourages diversity in kids’ books. “I think some of these young people just didn’t really read the book.”

While I agree with Pope that the fans who unabashedly expressed their racist views either didn’t read the book or didn’t read it carefully the theme and symbol of innocence and love in an inherently corrupt dystopic world affixed to a black 12-year old girl as Collins does with her character Rue in The Hunger Games is neither commonly nor comfortably seen in our world.

Do writers for children and young adult literature have a responsibility to be more explicit when introducing non-white characters in their books?

Or would being more explicit when introducing non-white characters play into a racist assumption that literary characters are white unless otherwise stated?

An easy answer would be to publish, to distribute, and to make part of core curriculum reading authors of color for children and young adults. Otherwise, this outpouring of racist tweets we see with The Hunger Games will merely be the tip of the iceberg.

We are Trayvon Martin: LGBTQ and African Americans united by murder

What does Trayvon Martin’s murder have to do with gay civil rights protection?

The quick answer: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act (mostly known by Matthew Shepard’s name). And this might be the only option the Florida Justice Department has in moving forward to arrest George Zimmerman and charge him with murder.

The nation is outraged that in 2012 an unarmed, African-American, 17 year-old high school student can be shot dead by a neighborhood watch captain because his egregious offense was “walking while black” in a gated community.

By now you are familiar with the story—on February 26, Trayvon Martin left a 7-Eleven convenience store to head back home to his father’s fiancée’s gated community in the Retreat At Twin Lakes in Sanford, Florida. George Zimmerman, 28, of mixed ethnic descent (mother’s Peruvian, and father’s Jewish—he identifies as Hispanic) began following Trayvon and called the Sanford Police Department. Although Zimmerman was advised by his superior not to pursue Trayvon he shot Trayvon in self- defense after a physical altercation initiated supposedly by Trayvon.

Was Zimmerman motivated by racism; therefore, racially profiling Trayvon?

And was Zimmerman’s act also a hate crime?

Many politicians are throwing around the h-word concerning Trayvon’s murder. Now many African-Americans are, too.

Renowned African American filmmaker Tyler Perry told CNN.com that “Racial profiling should be a hate crime investigated by the FBI. That way local government can’t make the decision on whether or not these people get punished.”

Perry recalled his frightening experience when he was pulled LAPD for making an illegal turn and having tinted windows. Once a black officer pulled up at the scene recognizing Perry. The arresting officers apologized and let him go. Perry stated that the incident, however, has stayed with him, opening his eyes to what type of treatment he might have endured if it wasn’t for his celebrity status.

In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act in law. Many African-Americans were irate that their protection under the law—which they argue they have fought for since being shipped to America in 1619—had to be associated with a white gay male who was killed in 1998.

Some African Americans, and, of course, heterosexual homophobes, wanted to know why couldn’t they have the James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act act solely to protect them. Many further argued that the law would serve to solely protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer Americans and would do precious little to protect them, particularly since the bill is commonly referred to as the Matthew Shepard Act.

“The more time I spend in the LGBT community’s civil rights movement the more I’m struck by the need for all the various human communities to support one another…Trayvon’s death is as personal to me as any white lesbian’s death. Trayvon is my brother, and whether one is black, white, gay or straight, we are all human beings together in this struggle for human dignity. It’s as simple as that,” Carol Fischer, wrote me in an email. Fischer’s a white lesbian and producer of bloomingOUT, a weekly queer radio show on WFHB Radio Station in Bloomington, IN.

In 1998 both James Byrd Jr., and Matthew Shepard were victims of bias-motivated crimes. Byrd, an African American was murdered by three white supremacists who chained him to the back of their pick-up truck at his ankles and dragged along a three mile asphalt road until he was dismembered. Shepard was tortured, tethered to a fence and left to die because he was gay.

With Florida’s Stand Your Ground permitting Zimmerman to walk without charges, the Shepard-Byrd statute not only reminds us of how bias-motivated crimes links gays and blacks together but that it’s also the best hope for Trayvon Martin and his family seeking justice.

Rev. Irene Monroe – Maid in America and ‘The Help’

When Viola Davis lost the Oscar for best actress portraying an African American maid in Katherine Stockett’s The Help to Meryl Streep portraying former Britain Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady at the 84th Academy Awards ceremony, there was a collective sigh of relief from many of us African American sisters.

Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry, the author of an upcoming book on racial stereotypes, summed up my feelings best when she told MSNBC that “what killed me was that in 2011, Viola Davis was reduced to playing a maid.” 

Earlier during the Academy Awards ceremony Octavia Spencer won best supporting actress for her stereotypical role as the sassy, tart-tongued “mammy-fied” maid, Minny Jackson, in The Help, making Spencer the fifth African American women to receive the coveted Oscar, and the second sister portraying a maid.

Sixty-two years earlier, in 1940, in Jim Crow America, Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar, and for her supporting role as a maid called “Mammy” in Gone With the Wind. When civil rights groups, like the NAACP, criticized McDaniel for her portrayal as “Mammy,” McDaniel famously retorted, “I would rather get paid $700 a week for playing a maid than $7 for being one.”

Knowing of the controversial legacy stemming from McDaniel’s role, Davis told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross her “role of Aibileen, in the hands of the wrong actress, could turn into a cliché. …You’re only reduced to a cliché if you don’t humanize a character. A character can’t be a stereotype based on the character’s occupation.” Davis contest she gave depth and dimensionality to her character by pulling from the actually lived experiences of both her mother and grandmother, who worked as maids.

Spencer, too, had trepidations about portraying a maid, telling reporters that her mother was a maid in Alabama, and “her heart sank when Stockett gave her the manuscript to read, worried that she might appear as a character like Mammy from Gone With the Wind. ‘And then I read it and I couldn’t stop reading it. It was brilliant.’”

In this “post-racial” Obama era, the subject of race and the politics of black representation in films are constrained by neither political correctness, personal enlightenment, nor moral consciousness.

For example, in 2010 the historical legacy of the devaluation and demonization of black motherhood was both applauded and rewarded at that year’s Oscars. And the point was clearly illustrated with Mo’Nique, capturing the gold statue for best supporting actress in the movie Precious, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, as a ghetto welfare mom who demeans and demoralizes her child every chance she can.

Mo’Nique’s role juxtaposed to Sandra Bullock’s, who captured her Oscar as best actress in the movie The Blind Side, offering the hand of human kindness to a poor black child in need of parenting.

But the images of African-American parenting have historically been viewed through a prism of gendered and racial stereotypes. And the image of Mo’Nique as the “bad black mother” and Sandra Bullock as “good white mother” is nothing new. The images of the “bad black mother” have not only been used for entertainment purposes but also used for legislating welfare policy reforms.

With international stars like Iman, Oprah, Whoopi Goldberg, and Beyonce, to name a few, signaling that women of the African diaspora have come a long way, what’s up with Hollywood’s—and much of white America’s—fixation of us as their maids and welfare moms?

“Portraying African-American women as stereotypical mammies, matriarchs, welfare recipients, and hot mommas has been essential to the political economy of domination fostering Black women’s oppression,” sociologist Patricia Hill Collins writes in Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment.

In a skit imagining what actors are thinking, Oscar host Billy Crystal said the following referring to Davis: “I want to thank my writer and director for creating the role of a strong black woman that wasn’t played by Tyler Perry. …When I came out of The Help I wanted to hug the first black woman that I saw, which from Beverly Hills is a 45-minute drive.”

The iconography of black women is predicated on four racist cultural images: the Jezebel, the Sapphire, Aunt Jemima, and Mammy. With the image of the strong black women who can endure anything and “make a way out of no way,” her strength is either demonized as being emasculating of black men or impervious to the human condition. The Aunt Jemima and Mammy stereotypes are now conflated into what’s called “Big Mamma” in today’s present iconography of racist and sexist images of African-American women.

While the Aunt Jemima and Mammy stereotypes are prevalent images that derive from slavery, for centuries both of them have not only been threatening, comforting, and nurturing to white culture but also to African-American men like Tyler Perry’s “Medea.” The dominant culture doesn’t see and hear African American women voices on this issue because our humanity is distorted and made invisible through a prism of racist and sexist stereotypes. So too is our suffering.

And our suffering is exacerbated when black women’s stories are told and/or scripted through a universally popular feel good but nonetheless racist trope of the white hero/rescuer.

This trope principally conveys the following: black liberation comes about through white agency.

While white guilt and paternalism are clearly pawned off in this trope as compassion, so too is its accompanying fictive narrative about black people.

And given our unresolved and embarrassing history of race relations in this country, only such a trope as the white hero/rescuer could be believed and made in America.

 

 

 

Perhaps the most dangerous black gay man…Cleo Manago

Cleo Manago is despised by some in the LGBTQ community. Descriptors like “homo demagogue,” contrarian, separatist, and anti-white are just a few that can be expressed in polite company.

But to a nationwide community of same-gender loving (SGL), bisexual, transgender and progressive heterosexual African American men, Manago is the MAN!, seen as a visionary, game changer and “social architect” focusing on advocating for and healing a group of men that continues to be maligned and marginalized—brothers.

“Without an understanding of the deep hurt that Black men have around issues of masculinity and their role as a man, you can’t hope to eliminate anti-homosexual sentiment in Black men. There has been no national project to address the psychic damage that White supremacy has done to Black men. But there is always some predominantly White institution waiting, ready to pounce on a Black man for behaving badly,” Manago wrote in his recent article “Getting at the Root of Black “Homophobic” Speech” in which he castigates GLAAD for demanding that CNN fire Roland Martin for misconstrued homophobic tweets.

Unapologetically Afrocentric in his approach in addressing social, mental, and health issues plaguing communities of black men, Manago has created a national study on black men and has built two organizations that for more than two decades have had national recognition and have successfully secured millions of dollars in funding—Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation Study, AmASSI Centers for Wellness and Culture, and Black Men’s Xchange.

Manago’s study, called “Critical Thinking and Cultural Affirmation” (CTCA), is a culturally informed preventive health strategy that addresses positive mental, sexual, and community health, encouraging self-actualization, cultural empowerment, and responsibility. CTCA has been in practice since 2002.

As the founder and CEO of AmASSI Health and Cultural Center, Manago was one of the first innovators in the AIDS movement to provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention services utilizing a psychosocial, mental health model that was culturally specific to the African American identity. AmASSI has been in practice since 1989.

Manago is the national organizer and founder of Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), the oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior, cultural affirmation, and critical consciousness among SGL, bisexual, transgender males, and allies, with chapters in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Orange County, Detroit, Denver, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. Black Men’s Xchange has been funded by the Center for Disease Control’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative program. And the CDC positions BMX alongside other legacy community black organization such as the NAACP, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and American Urban Radio Networks. BMX has been in practice since 1989.

A native of South Central Los Angeles, Manago began a vocation in social services at the age of 16. While many would call him a social activist, he does not like the term “activist” applied to him because he considers black LGBTQ activism tethered to mainstream white privilege, ideology, and single-focused gay organizations that is culturally dissonant and limited in scope to be meaningful and beneficial to not only African American LGBTQ communities but also to the larger black community.

To many in Manago’s community and beyond, he’s an unsung hero greatly misunderstood and intentionally marginalized by LGBTQ powerbrokers.

One factor, Manago would contest, contributing to his marginalization was the debacle between him and Keith Boykin during the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March.

In commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Million Man March, the Nation of Islam decidedly chose one LGBTQ organization over another. And that decision highlights much of the political, class, and ideological differences in the African-American LGBTQ community at large.

Keith Boykin—the founder and then president of the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC), an African-American LGBTQ civil rights organization of which I was then a board member—was dropped from the event. But Cleo Manago was not.

Both men had much to bring to the 2005 Millions More March, but Manago mirrored the fundamental sentiment of Farrakhan’s theology—a conscious separation from the dominant white heterosexual and queer cultures—and he spoke at the historic 1995 Million Man March.

In his open letter, Manago wrote in 2005: “BMX knows the Nation of Islam (NOI). It’s an independent black organization not funded by the HRC or any white folks. The NOI does not, nor does it have to succumb to White gay press laden, black homosexual coercives who want to ram a white constructed gay-identity political agenda—that even most Black homosexuals reject—down their throats. Over the years, several members of the Nation of Islam have been to BMX. As some of you may know, almost 10 years ago BMX co-sponsored a very successful transformative debate on Homosexuality in the Black community with the Nation in L.A.”

As a queer separatist organization, many LGBTQ African-Americans applaud BMX for being unabashedly queer and unapologetically black. But the terms “queer” and “gay” are not descriptors Manago and his organization would use to depict themselves. That would be “same-gender-loving” because terms like “gay” and “queer” uphold a white queer hegemony that Manago and many in the African-American LGBTQ community denounce. As a matter-of-fact, he is credited with coining the terms “men who have sex with men” (MSM) and “same-gender-loving” (SGL).

To some in the LGBTQ community Manago is a dangerous demagogue. But to tens of thousands African American brothers and generous funders he’s seen as a brother driven with a dream. And he’s perhaps dangerous because he’s effecting change.

Hazing or hate crime?

Robert Champion, Jr.’s murder may never be solved. Those who struck the fatal blows may never disclose whether they used the guise of hazing as an accidental homicide to cover up an intended hate crime.

Champion was an unusual student to be at one of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). He was openly gay, and a drum major slated to be the head drum major next school year. At HBCU, drum majors are usually heterosexual macho brothers equivalent to captains of football teams.

On November 19, 2011, Champion, a music major from Atlanta, was one of six drum majors of the famous Florida A&M University (FAMU) Marching “100” band who traveled to Orlando for the annual Florida Classic football game between FAMU and Bethune-Cookman University.

At the end of the game that evening, Champion was found dead aboard a band bus resulting from blunt trauma suffered from flogging. Thirteen band members, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, each independently stated to police that Champion was forced onto a band bus with a reputation for hazing.

Law enforcement and the medical examiner ruled that Champion’s death a homicide. But rumors that he was singled out because of his sexual orientation forces HBCU’s to once again examine its institutional heterosexism along with its students’ individual and group activities of anti-gay violence.

Morehouse’s highly publicized 2002 gay-bashing incident has no doubt taught HBCU’s very little in terms of developing safe, nurturing and culturally competent schools with support services for its LGBTQ administration, faculty and student body.

On November 4, 2002, a Morehouse College student sustained a fractured skull from his classmate, sophomore Aaron Price, not surprisingly, the son of an ultra-conservative minister. Price uncontrollably beat his victim on the head with a baseball bat for allegedly looking at him in the shower.

In the 1980s and 1990s it was more dangerous to be openly GBTQ on Morehouse’s campus than it was on the streets in gang-ridden black neighborhoods. And throughout the 1990s Morehouse was listed on the Princeton Review’s top 20 homophobic campuses.

In 2012 HBCU’s as a whole are still slow to take on the public challenge on LGBTQ issues for a few reasons: Some schools were founded with conservative religious affiliation, and Black colleges are no different from African American communities in general, which is why some in the FAMU community argue, suggesting that Champion’s death was about his being gay is creating a mountain out of a molehill.

“Um, who cares? Unless his sexual orientation was the reason why he was beaten to death, then it’s quite irrelevant. We had previously heard about him being gay, but we declined on reporting about it because if the police were told this when they characterized his death a result of hazing and didn’t connect the two to say this was a hate crime, then why throw it out there? I’m sure Robert Champion wasn’t the first homosexual to pledge a fraternity.”

No one in the FAMU community wants to broach the topic of Champion’s sexual orientation as a possible motivating factor for the incident. And the push back from students and administration is fierce.

Whereas an institutional shift at FAMU needs to take place, embracing an inclusive acceptance of its students’ various sexual orientations and gender identities, FAMU will work indefatigably to ward off lawsuits. (The Champions cannot sue FAMU for six months because of the state institution is protected under a sovereign immunity.)

In an anemic attempt to exonerate FAMU band director, Dr. Julian White, of any culpability concerning Champion’s death, Chuck Hobbs, his attorney, released a statement that reveals both ignorance about anti-gay violence as well as no desire to change the culture that brought about Champion’s murder.

“Assuming that the assertions of the Champion family and their attorney Chris Chestnut are true, then it is entirely possible that Champion’s tragic death was less about any ritualistic hazing and more tantamount to a hateful and fully conscious attempt to batter a young man because of his sexual orientation. As such, the efforts Dr. White expended to root out and report hazing could not have predicted or prevented such deliberate barbarity.”

We may never know if Champion’s beat down from “hazing” was an accidental homicide or an intended hate crime.

But these are the facts we know presently:

Champion was forced onto a band bus with a reputation for hazing; he was a vocal opponent against hazing, a band disciplinarian, slated to be head drum major, and he had an “alternative lifestyle.” Everyone in the FAMU community is willing to talk about all these issues except about him being gay.